Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NRSV)
My then 6-year-old and I were on one of our walks to the pond when she said, “I wish I could be a tree. Then I could watch the birds and the beavers and things and they wouldn’t be scared and run away.” I asked, “Wouldn’t you be sad that you couldn’t move around at all?” She thought for a moment and replied, “The trees here don’t mind.” I couldn’t argue the point.
The conversation stuck with me as we skipped rocks on the pond, watched the egrets fly in to perch among the gray pines and talked about our days with each other. When it was time to head back in to get ready for dinner, I told her to go in without me and I watched her skip/run/dance her way back to the house. It occurred to me that someone with that much energy would have a hard time being a tree. I went back and settled in on the small beach we used to skip rocks from and thought about the life of a tree.
The Scriptures are well-forested with metaphors using trees, often referring to the spiritual life of the individual. The parallels of the spiritual life and the life of a tree seem obvious at first thought: trees depend on water for life = we depend on God for life; trees produce fruit in season = we produce fruit in God’s timing; trees by a stream are more likely to have long life = we have eternal life through God; etc. But on that day I felt like God wanted me to get something else. This is the first of four observations from that evening at the pond.
Stillness is not a laudable characteristic in our current culture of fast-paced, instant gratification consumerism. Even the gamers who have melded into their couches are in a constant state of motion internally and externally. Yet the first characteristic I noticed about the trees was that they remained in place. This is an important piece in understanding the use of trees in scripture. Trees do not move. Their branches sway and their leaves flutter, but they are anchored to a singular place. This is too their benefit if the place is good and to their detriment if it is not good. I believe that when God describes our life with Him as the life of a tree, He is asking us to get rooted and be still. We can still wave our branches and flutter our leaves, but we must stay where life is certain.
It reminds me of the oft stated request from parents to their children, “Will you be still?” On most occasions, it is not a lack of motion that we are really after, but an attitude of obedience and attentiveness. It seems to me that our Heavenly Father is making the same request. His desire is not for us to be sedentary, but to be constant and imperishable. By thinking of our life with God as a tree by a stream, we can pursue growth, change and fruitfulness in a stable and reliable environment. Unfortunately, we are not trees and we can move about like that disobedient child, losing sight of the one we love, but inadvertently disregard.
When my daughter and I started our walks to the pond and along the stream, stillness was one of the most difficult disciplines to teach her. She was not only in constant motion, but she was not taking the time to be aware of her surroundings, to soak in what was happening around. Because of this she missed things. It was humorous to hear her comment on how she thought her eyes must be getting better since she seemed to notice more things now. In fact, her eyes were just as capable before, but she would not be still long enough for them to truly focus on what was right in front of her.
The stillness we can learn from the trees, and God’s desire for us to be like them, is invaluable to living a life that is content and pleasing to Him. It is, however, one of the hardest disciplines that we can develop in our life with God. The next time you pass by a tree, take some time to be still (inside and out) and see where God can take you in those moments. I believe they will be moments you will treasure and grow from and will help your roots dig deeper.